Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship
Saturday August 12
Ruairí Óg, Cushendall vs Clooney Gaels
Slemish Park, Ballymena
Referee: Michael Hardy (Rasharkin)
By Brendan McTaggart
The race to see who will become Kings of Antrim hurling begins on Saturday evening with a David versus Goliath contest at Slemish Park, Ballymena. Ruairi Og, 13 times champions take on Clooney Gaels in the preliminary round with a 6:30pm throw-in scheduled.
The Ahoghill side have been making their own history and while it may not be as esteemed as Cushendall’s, it is still worth taking note of their strides from the south west division. In 2013 they won the Antrim Junior Championship which set them on a journey which went all the way to the All Ireland Junior final in Croke Park where they were beaten by Kilkenny champions Danesfort. Four years ago they captured the Intermediate crown and added the Ulster title as well before losing in the All-Ireland semi-final to Rower Inistioge of Kilkenny. They are now in their fourth year at senior championship level although they are still searching for their first win at this level.
It’s been a tough season for the Ahoghill side and with three league games remaining, it’s looking like they will be plying their trade in Division Three from next season. Essentially it’s the first blip on the road for the Gaels in their recent history and a concern considering they were playing in the top division just two seasons ago. Two wins from 11 and four points from safety leave them in a precarious position but when we look further into the club, perhaps they have been punching above their weight for a while. They can be classed as a more than handy hurling side while their football counterparts have been playing Division One since 2014 also – no mean fete for a small rural club with as many as 14 dual players.
The Ruairi’s on the other hand have been going from strength from strength. Last year will have hurt their pride to lose their stranglehold on the Volunteer Cup and will have major ambitions of adding to their roll of honour. The Ruairis are still in with a chance of winning the league title as well and appear to be hitting form for the championship, although they will be missing the services of a few of last year’s line-up like Shane McNaughton, Christy McNaughon, Alex Delargy and Eoghan Campbell.
As the season approaches the business end, the Ahoghill men are faced with two make or break games in the space of 24 hours. Undoubtedly a tough ask for any dual club to deal with. On Saturday though against Cushendall, fundamentally they have nothing to lose. To say the Ruairi’s will start the game as huge favourites is probably the understatement of the season, even though they did beat Cushendall 0-20 to 1-13 in the Under 21 Hurling Championship ten years ago in what is undoubtedly the biggest upset in the history of the competition.
The odds on such a repeat are slim and realistically the only thing in question is by how much and not if Cushendall win. If the Ruairi’s approach the game with anything less than the correct attitude then Clooney will be in with a shout but although David slayed Goliath, I can’t see a fairy-tale ending this time around.
ALL DALLED UP would like to wish Ruairi Og every success on Saturday and for the rest of the championship campaign